A decade of decline as Colchester United under-achieve once again
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Colchester United correspondent CARL MARSTON casts his eye over the recent 2017-18 campaign. It was ultimately a season of disappointment for the U’s
It promised so much, but Colchester United’s second season back in the fourth tier of English football ended in disappointment.
The Essex club has been in steady decline, results-wise, over the last 10 years, and hopes of reversing that trend during 2017-18 were dashed by a mediocre campaign.
There is no real point in harking back to those heady days in the Championship, when the U’s graced the second tier for two wonderful years – the first season was certainly wonderful, with a 10th-placed finish, before relegation was suffered in 2008.
The U’s over-achieved, big-time, during that halcyon period, but it was hoped that the Essex club would steady the ship in League One.
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For a while, they did, although play-off ambitions were soon replaced by relegation battles. The first four seasons back in League One at least yielded top-half-of-the-table finishes, but there has been a general slide ever since the dying embers of John Ward’s reign.
Relegation fears became the norm from 2012-13 onwards, until relegation became a reality in 2016 – the U’s found themselves back in the fourth tier for the first time in 18 years.
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A promotion push was engineered in 2016-17, to such an extent that the U’s finished just one place and one point adrift of the play-offs. The season had been kept alive until the final day, although dreams of an immediate return to League One had been dashed.
Alas, the anticipated stronger promotion surge of the most recent season never materialised, and a final finishing place of 13th represented yet more decline.
In fact, here are the U’s the finishing places, in the Football League pyramid (top 92 clubs, including the 20 Premier League clubs), since 2007:
30th in 2007; 44th in 2008; 56th in 2009; 52nd in 2010; 54th in 2011; 54th in 2012; 64th in 2013; 60th in 2014; 63rd in 2015; 67th in 2016; 76th in 2017; and 81st in 2018.
Whichever way you look at it, these statistics are not good.
The U’s have not nose-dived dramatically, to the extent of a Leyton Orient, Hartlepool or Chesterfield, who are all now National League clubs, but this general slide needs to be averted if the U’s are not to end up looking nervously over their shoulder towards a life in non-league.
Ironically, while John McGreal’s men flirted with the bottom two for a few weeks during 2016-17, they were always looking upwards during this last season.
They even forced themselves into the play-off zone for a couple of separate weeks in December, but their form dipped following the turn of the year and gradually those top-seven ambitions were scattered to the winds.
So why did the season, as a whole, end in disappointment? Here are some factors:
1 SLUGGISH START: the U’s only won two of their first 12 games, in all competitions, dropping to 20th in the table after a 2-1 home defeat to Wycombe (September 23).
2 POOR FINISH: the U’s only won three of their last 13 fixtures, losing seven and drawing the other three. That meant just 12 points were collected from a possible 39. When they beat Coventry 2-1 on a midweek evening on February 13, the U’s were up to 10th in the table, just three points off the play-offs. But they ended the season 13 points and six places adrift.
3 LACK OF GOALS: This was a big problem, all season. Sammie Szmodics led the way with 13 goals (12 in the league), but he failed to score in his last 16 matches, netted only once in the last 19 since Boxing Day, and he also missed some key penalties.
Likewise, centre forward Mikael Mandron, although bagging 10 goals, only scored twice in 21 league appearances since that Boxing Day win at Crawley.
Furthermore, there was no real back-up from elsewhere on the pitch, with no other U’s player reaching five goals.
In the end, the U’s only managed 53 goals in 46 league matches. Only five clubs scored less in the whole division.
4 INJURIES: These were not as bad or as wide-ranging as the previous season, but the absence of Brennan Dickenson for all but seven games was a huge blow. Dickenson’s pace and power down the left was sorely missed. He would also have contributed a few goals, and assists, that could have made all the difference. The fact that club skipper, Luke Prosser, did not return to the side until January, after a 14-month absence with a knee injury, was also a big setback.
HOME FORM: Just nine home wins was a poor return, with seven defeats along the way, including to the likes of Yeovil and Cheltenham.